The NFL's much-maligned Thursday night schedule concluded last week, and so we will have to find something else to occupy our time for three hours this evening. The occasion merits one final effort in our periodic comparisons between Thursday night games and the ones played more traditionally on Sundays and Mondays.
After watching the brutal Week 2 performances of the New England Patriots and New York Jets, the first short-week Thursday night game of the season, I thought it would be worth tracking some key statistics to see if they matched our anecdotal observations about the quality of play on Thursday nights. As it turned out, there were some key early discrepancies -- most notably in passing efficiency. But as with many short-term alarms, the numbers evened out over time.
The chart to the right includes all Thursday night games except for Week 1's matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos, which was not played on short rest. The working theory for many of us was simple: Removing three days' worth of rest and preparation time would lead to a sloppier, more poorly played game on Thursday night.
That might well have been the case, but documenting the drop off proved difficult. The only real departure I could find was a higher percentage of sacks on Thursday night. A higher rate of sacks on Thursday night could be attributed to worn-out offensive lines or hastily installed protection schemes, or it could simply be a function of a smaller sample size.
Thursday night games don't feel right from a traditional sense, and players don't like them because of the shortened recovery time from the previous game. But if you hope the NFL will eliminate them, you're probably going to be disappointed. For that to happen, you're going to have to hope for two obvious conclusions: That the product (1) is inferior and (2) isn't popular among fans.
Perhaps I've identified the wrong categories to document quality of play, but the numbers we have looked at simply don't support the working theory. And popularity? Pfttt.
According to the NFL, the 13-game Thursday night package averaged a record 8 million viewers this season, up 10 percent from 2012. Its rating of 5.0 represented a 9 percent increase and made it the No. 1 Thursday night cable program of the year.
I'm not telling you to distrust what your eyes might be telling you. To this point, however, I can't document for you anything that would compel the NFL to move away from these games. They're almost certainly here to stay.